Recent Commonplace Entries


“While I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts – through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing – can’t be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time.” (Robert Caro, in Working, quoted by Ruth Schurr in TLS review, April 26)


“Finally, there is the invisible hand that links together the interests of merchants and manufacturers in different industries. This is Smith’s most famous use of the phrase ‘invisible hand’. It also contains his worst argument effectively that when each capitalist advances the interest of his own industry, business as a whole benefits, since it is nothing more than the aggregate of individual industries. This is a fallacy of composition; it assumes without proof that the success of one industry is not generally linked to the failure of others (manufacturer of fore-hoses versus manufacturer of fire-proofing).” (Alexander Douglas, in review of Eric Schliesser’s Adam Smith and Dennis C. Rasmussen’s The Infidel and the Professor, in TLS, April 26)

“The past is the only thing we know. The present is no more than an illusion, a moment that is already past in an instant (or, rather, a moment in which past and future slot into each other). And what we know about the future is nothing else than the projection of our past knowledge into it.” (John Lukacs, in A Student’s Guide to the Study of History, quoted in his NYT obituary, May 9)

“The Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, or MBTI, is not universally respected (‘astrology for middle management’ is an unflattering description), but there is no doubting its popularity, from job recruitment to dating sites, or its enshrinement in American life  . . . ” (Phil Baker, in TLS review of Merve Emre’s What’s Your Type?, May 3)

“Good gracious me, if we ruled out hiring staff who had a fling with Marx in their misspent youth, we should have to fight the war with the Women’s Auxiliary.” (‘Miss Maxse’, from Robert Littell’s Young Philby, p 195)

“‘Gentleman, it is not Soviet communism I fear, but rather British imperialism,’ Truman remarked to Senator Burton K. Wheeler some weeks after becoming President.” (John Ranelagh, in The Agency, p 122)

“In September 1946 Henry Wallace, Truman’s secretary of commerce, received a warm reception when he said: ‘To make Britain the key to our foreign policy would, in my judgment, be the height of folly. Make no mistake about it: the British imperialist policy in the Near East alone, combined with Russian retaliation, would lead the United States straight to war  . . .  The real peace we now need is between the United States and Russia.’” (reported in NYT, September 13, 1946)

“The Reds, phonies and the parlor pinks seem to be banded together and are becoming a national danger. I am afraid they are a sabotage front for Uncle Joe Stalin.” (President Truman, September 19, 1946; quoted by Daniel Yergin in Shattered Peace) (from John Ranelagh’s The Agency, p 125)

“But you can’t do a professional job on a subject if you’re going to be passionate about it.” (John Huizenga, in 1983 interview with the author, from John Ranelagh’s The Agency, p 471)

“An anchorite or anchoress permanently encloses themselves in a cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation.” (Mary Wellesley, in London Review of Books, May 23)

“The chief practical use of history is to deliver us from plausible historical analogies.” (James Bryce, in 1920, according to Jan-Werner Müller in London Review of Books, May 23)

‘The main benefit of controlling a modern bureaucratic state is not the power to persecute the innocent. It is the power to protect the guilty.” (‘a Hungarian observer’, according to Jan-Werner Müller in London Review of Books, May 23)

“You have the ability to look at a mass of what seems like conflicting trivia and discern patterns. And patterns, as any spy worth his salt grasps, are the outer shells of conspiracy.” (’Kim Philby’ to ‘James Angleton’, in Robert Littell’s The Company, p 36)

“Poetry should respond to climate change.” (poet laureate Simon Armitage, quoted in TLS, May 17)

“We need a revival of period strings as much as we need a revival of period dentistry.” (cited by Nicholas Kenyon in TLS, May 17)

“Or is he [Stalin], on the contrary, the leader of a pro-Western minority bloc within the Soviet Politburo, who would like to come to a reasonable agreement with us and who would carry it out in good faith to insure the future peace of the world, but who is unable to do so because he is outvoted by his colleagues of the ruling oligarchy within the Kremlin?” (Walter Bedell Smith, in My Three Years in Moscow, p 54)

“Some years ago, a knockabout neighbor glanced at a book I was carrying, a recent biography, which had, splashed in bold characters across its spine, EVELYN WAUGH’. ‘Ah,’ he suggested, ‘Steve and Mark’s mum?’” (Mark McGinness, in Quadrant, Aril 2016)

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